Fortana del Taro. A grape variety with a centennial history
Six hectares of earth with six centuries of history. It seems, in fact, that already in 1400 in the region called Bassa Parmense, the lowest area in the region of Parma, this variety, the Fortana, was cultivated. It is an autochthonous variety of French provenance, probably from the Côte d’or in Burgundy, from where would also derive its sobriquet “uva d’oro”.
However, the term does not only refer to its origin but also to the grape’s high fruitfulness, which guarantees richness and security for the producers. It assumes then – to bind it even more to the territory – the same name as the river Taro, the tributary of the river Po that crosses that part of the Bassa.
A strong and vigorous grape, which produces a genuine red wine, sweet and refined. However, it was threatened with extinction due to the continuing search for ground to use for agriculture. The Bergamaschi brothers, with their wine cellars a few kilometres away from Busseto, in Sambosto, between the street Via Emilia and the river Po, were able to save this variety and rendered it a typical product of the province of Parma. Being part of the big project called “Rural,” which unites breeders and farmers of the region, the three brothers commit to the undertaking of preserving and protecting with passion the biodiversity of the region and to keeping their product indigenous – a passion which has already been passed on for generations.
What drove you to the challenge of giving back life to a crop threatened by extinction like the Fortana-grape?
We have always believed in this product, which was one of the most typical wines of the province of Parma. Nevertheless, it was becoming ever rarer. My grandfather, in the sixties, cultivated a Fortana vineyard, planting it and making it bear lots of fruits. Furthermore, he asked many of his farming friends not to eradicate it, always compensating them very well. Thanks to him, we were able to preserve it until the nineties, when the Region gave us permission to plant some hectars of this grape.
Nowadays, we have a six-hectar vineyard of this original vine of the Parmesan variety called Fortana del Taro, which received the IGT (Indication of Geographic Tipicity).
A fruitful variety, numerous requests. Perfect combination?
Yes, the wine is very highly demanded. Thanks to the low amount of sugar, the moderate alcohol content and the characteristic, fresh and fruity flavour it is very pleasant to drink. It has elevated acidity and is rich in polyphenols, therefore it is astringent and combats fats. It is perfect to be drunk with local salumi (i.e. sausages and cold meat like e.g. ham). Beyond regional consume, it is also very much appreciated in the rest of Italy and even has a certain appeal abroad.
Are you thinking about an extension of the vineyard?
No. We want to keep it the way it is. A niche product.
You give more value to quality, then?
Yes. We are aiming for a product of limited quantity but of highest quality.
Concerning the European norms of protection of biological cultivation and of small producers, do you really feel protected and supported, or does it rather create problems for you on an international level?
As is the case everywhere where there is change, the positive feedback is accompanied by problems. One has to adapt. However, the protection works in the case of our indigenuous grape/vines/vineyard/variety. We are a very localised company and at the moment consider ourselves happy with the situation on European level. Moreover, our production is regulated by norms, like the quotes for milk-production. If one has a specific surface, one can only use that one. One cannot plant other vines/vine yards until one has bought the quote of another producer.
Will you remain focused on the production of this wine?
We have a range of other wines, but the Fortana del Taro is the local reference product. Or a symbol for the territory.
Your company’s history is a family history. Starting with your grandfather and pursued by you three brothers. But will the new generations follow you?
We have a nephew of 18 years of age and one of 13 years. Both already give us some advice and show themselves really passionate. We hope that our enterprise can have a future with them.
Also because it would be sad to lose such an important “history of wine.”
Of course, it is rare that enterprises such as ours are able to carry on for many generations. In our case, we would be very happy if the tradition continued with at least one of our two nephews.
Now let´s talk about the quality and genuineness of the products brought to the tables: Are producers and consumers more aware?
Notwithstanding the economic crisis, we were able to maintain our trade very active, and therefore to continue our undertaking of the healthy revival of a high-quality product.
Has the advent of social media been an ulterior publication opportunity for your product in Italy and abroad?
It is our nephews who are helping us to manage the alternative canals of diffusion and selling. They facilitate the word-of-mouth-advertising of our product and company on Facebook and on our webpage (http://www.fortanadeltaro.it/Fortana/index.asp). Thanks to the web, therefore, we can be found in all of Italy, as in the world. We have already had contacts with Northern Europe, France, Germany, and Spain in the last years. Some people also come to see us in person.
Your wine adds up to which local products?
Most of all with the Spalla Cotta di San Secondo (cured shoulder of pork from San Secondo, translator’s note) and the Culatello di Zibello (a typically Emilian type of ham, translator’s note). But more generally, thinking also of domestic dishes and specialities, a micro circle of product-advertising will be created, reciprocal and continuous. A pretty situation and an efficient promotional synergy.
(The Bergamaschi brothers’ wine Podere rosa, obtained from indigenous Barbastelle of the area, has been ranked in 2005 among the ‘Top hundred’ of the best Italian wines.)
Translated by Elena Schulze-Langenhorst